Ever since the humble beginnings of the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, we’ve seen releases of large swaths of arcade-style games. These titles, from Geometry Wars to Super Stardust, have populated these services from day one. Vlambeer, the creative team behind Super Crate Box and Ridiculous Fishing, is back with Luftrausers, a 2D action game that feels like it’s a lost gem from a bygone era. It continues the unstoppable trend of arcade-style downloadable games in style.
Like many games of its type, Luftrausers is all about providing a simplistic-yet-addictive experience that will keep you coming back for more. It’s all about taking to the skies and shooting down as many enemy planes, boats and other air and sea vehicles as you can before you are shot down. As you take down enemies, you build up a combo meter; the longer you maintain it, the higher your score. If you’ve played any arcade-style game in the past, you know exactly what to expect.
Luftrausers delivers on these base ideas with some excellent controls and plenty of variety, as well as one central challenge: balancing your health and your combo meter. As you take damage, you see a circle close in around your plane; the smaller it gets, the closer you are to being taken down. You can regain health by ceasing fire, but by doing so you run the risk of losing your combo, making for an excellent risk-reward system that keeps you balancing both your health and your combo.
The controls took a little getting used to, but once I got a handle on them I realized how exceptional they were. You can choose to propel the plane whenever you want, but you can also stop at any time, allowing you to cut the engine and turn in any direction to take out enemies. This gives you more direct control over your plane, making it easier to keep your combo going or get away from a tough situation without much hassle.
The game’s variety comes from the ship parts you unlock. You have three types to choose from: your gun, your hull and your engine. While you can stick with your starting plane, half the fun of Luftrausers is experimenting with the various components and finding new, effective combinations. The best part? Every combination you find has its uses. While you may want to stick with your favorites, it can be rewarding to try out new ship parts and discovering new combinations that fit your play style.
The game’s central focus is on missions, which are basically challenges. Each part you unlock comes with a new set of missions to complete, all of which require you to accomplish specific goals. Some of them are basic, such as take out a specific type of enemy a number of times; these allow you to get a handle on the basics as well as the specific parts. Others, on the other hand, require more patience, like having to destroy fifty enemies while continually firing, forcing you to not stop and restore your health or taking out a large group of enemies without taking damage. The assortment of different challenges here is excellent, and where Luftrausers really excels.
This is also where it all comes together in a brilliant way. You’ll want to attempt specific challenges based on certain ship parts, which forces you to both practice with those parts and also try out new ship combinations that will help complete those missions. It forces you to stop relying on specific ship components and provides ample opportunities to discover new ones that you may not have spent much time with.
It’s simple, really. You use new components to complete missions and, in turn, might end up getting good enough with those components to use them on other troublesome missions. It’s a formula that may not seem too impressive when spelled out, but when you’re actually playing the game you’ll be amazed at how well it works.
It’s a relatively basic game without much content outside of the missions, but Luftrausers does a lot with a little. It’s a side-scrolling shooter, complete with everything you expect from the genre, but it both handles those base elements superbly and provides enough of a feedback loop to keep you coming back for more long after you think you’re ready to stop. It’s the perfect definition of a “just one more time” experience.
Pros: Fantastic controls, ship variety, missions and central mechanics
Cons: Not much content beyond completing challenges